The military attaché system dates from the pre-World War II era. In those years, policymakers in Washington had limited and often inadequate information on the latest overseas military innovations. Because of the United States’ isolationist tendencies, the armed forces were small and short of equipment. In the inter-war period, the military in Germany, Italy, and Japan began to rearm and test new and emerging military technologies and tactics, not just in theory, but in practice in China, Spain, and Ethiopia. In these circumstances, posting U. S. military officers at selected embassies abroad to gather information about foreign military developments was crucial because these advances had important implications for the organization and equipping of the U. S. armed forces and for the security of the United States. This intelligence gathering effort could only proceed if attachés developed working relationships with foreign military personnel. Close relations improved the chances of obtaining information and of establishing channels likely to be useful should those foreign forces one day be U. S. allies. Many attachés—especially those who served in Tokyo and Berlin—did an outstanding job of outlining attitudes, cultivating contacts, and reporting on the military preparations for war of these two countries. 1 In these cases, the military attaché system provided a prudent and useful means for U. S. military forces to stay informed about important military developments elsewhere.
After the war, a vastly different situation developed. Aside from the Soviet Union, there was no power that could challenge the United States on a global scale. America’s allies made U. S. equipment, doctrine, and organization the standard for their countries. At the same time, Washington substantially increased the U. S. diplomatic and military presence around the globe in response to Cold War concerns of a communist threat to capitalism and democracy. The attaché corps, small and quite limited in its scope before the war, expanded sixteen-fold to include representation in over seventy coun